Group 4–Hawthorne and Monomania

Why does Wakefield (or Reverend Hooper or Young Goodman Brown) act as he does? As the slides suggest, he bears traits of the “monomaniac,” but that’s hardly the end of the discussion. Is the character you’re looking at out of control of his actions? Deliberate? How do you know? Is the action reasonable in an any sense? Do they have a goal they mean to achieve by their behavior?

6 thoughts on “Group 4–Hawthorne and Monomania

  1. Mae Ryan

    Although the Wakefield reading is from a narrator’s perspective, I think the insight we do have into Wakefield’s inner thoughts, especially through the few lines of dialogue, is especially telling. When Wakefield feels as if his house is so distant that he can’t imagine returning, he has to remind himself it is not by saying, “It is but in the next street!” (10). Still, he does not return home for years. The necessity of this verbal reminder and its ultimate futility show just how little control Wakefield has over his own reality and is evidence of the outside influence the narrator mentions that is instead controlling Wakefield’s actions. After Wakefield bumps into his wife on the street he exclaims, “Wakefield! Wakefield! You are mad!” (11). I initially thought this exclamation could be evidence that Wakefield had a level of self-awareness regarding his mental state, which might in some way lessen the severity of his monomania. However, when Wakefield continued to remain absent from his old life, I realized that any self-awareness was fairly limited and certainly did not translate into taking any action.

    I was also interested in the goal Wakefield was trying to achieve with his actions. I agree with other posts that have attributed his desire to leave home to his vanity. He seems to feel very self important, he is sure that others on the street noticed him going into the apartment and believes that others will be impacted by his absence because he is a “central object” (8) of their world. However, it seems that his goal has been achieved just weeks into his absence when his wife becomes so upset that she must call the apothecary and physician. I do not think that Wakefield is a monomaniac before this point, he seems to just be foolishly searching to inject some excitement into his life. When he has reached that goal and still does not come home, I think that is when his actions are consistent with monomania. He cannot stop himself from acting on his fixation.

  2. Alexander Merrill

    I really resonate with Gordon’s comment. The lack of Bartleby, Wakefield, Young Goodman Brown, or Rev. Hooper’s perspective in the stories we’ve read maintains a distance between these characters and the reader, in effect causing the reader to see them as the other “normal” people in their worlds’ see them. While the reader might see them as crazy or paranoid, the characters themselves likely find their actions very reasonable. I don’t think it is hard to see how, when framed from the perspective of their obsessive and extreme worldviews’, their actions might seem reasonable, or maybe even obvious in some cases.

    Their choices do seem very deliberate, like Wakefield’s disguise and choice of living space as well as Rev. Hooper’s veil, as others have mentioned above, and when viewed through the lens of their obsessive or paranoid worldview, these choices very well could make sense. I do see clear goals in Wakefield and Young Goodman Brown’s heads to prove his wife’s love for him and to distance himself from those he sees as evil, respectively. However, Rev. Hooper’s goal is less clear to me. I would argue that his choice to wear the veil is not a means to an end, but rather an arbitrary, manufactured value, similar to religious values like celibacy or not eating certain foods. I wonder if Hawthorne might be making a comment about religious people and their similarities to the other monomaniacal behavior we have seen in these stories.

  3. Jacob Morton

    It’s interesting to consider the religious implications hinted at in the monomania slides, especially considering the particular stories we read for today. As an author, Hawthorne is famously interested in the “unified” behavior of cultures–as well as the outcasts alienated by it. In the slides, it’s mentioned that Esquirol was convinced certain monomaniacal endemics reflected the values and activity of whatever culture/population they afflicted–the “undiagnosed superstitious and religious monomanias” during the Protestant reformation being once specific example. Though Young Goodman Brown, for instance, isn’t set during the 1500s, its context is obviously soaked in an ostensibly homogeneous religious fervor; the culture we’re initially introduced to is one of unwavering Christian faith. Such intense piousness colors the cultish activities depicted later on in the story, with the latter being a dark, satanic reflection of the former–both obsessive or even monomaniacal in a way. Though the devil-worshipping is obviously depicted in a more unsettling light than the Puritan community of Salem village, it’s interesting how Hawthorne portrays Brown’s piousness as being a trigger–in combination with his wife–in the character’s mental descent. “With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” (p. 5) It’s of course no coincidence his wife name is “Faith.” Once he starts tearing through the forest–desperate to find (his) Faith–his sanity begins to quiver. “And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run.” (p. 6). The obsessive, reality-warping tendencies exhibited by Brown at this point in the story could be perhaps described as monomaniacal due to their sheer conviction. Then by the end of the story, once Brown is back at home, we’re presented with his final nosedive into disillusionment and doubt–a monomaniacal paranoia that’s already been referenced above.

  4. Rachel Horowitz-Benoit

    I agree with both comments that Wakefield is firmly in control of his physical reality, but because his desires are confused, his deliberate actions both work toward and against his stated goal. With both Wakefield and Reverend Cooper, their monomaniac desires which they try to achieve through eccentric means are in and of themselves contradictory and impossible. Wakefield’s stated goal is to abandon his wife and disappear, but the “prank” is largely fueled by vanity. Paradoxically, his desire to disappear from his everyday life is also a desire to be different and exceptional in some way. His chosen disguise, a red wig and sundry Jewish clothing, are both noticeable choices. He recklessly returns home ostensibly to check up on Mrs. Wakefield, but also in a way that seems to want her to catch him; he repeatedly finds himself at his front door without consciously meaning to there. His 20-year-long game is a remarkable feat of willpower, but it always came with the caveat that one day he would return home, and his efforts would thus be recognized. The contradictory nature of his goal leads to the eccentricty of his actions.

    Similarly, Reverend Hooper, at the end of his life, explains that his black veil is in fact representative of the metaphorical masks that people wear to hide from each other and God. His monomania is also a paradox that can never be satisfied: by visually signifying his distance from others, he both hides more of himself than others do and yet is more honest. The obsession seems to stem from a misguided attempt to reconcile the contradiction of wanting to reveal his own hiddenness.

  5. Henry Mooers

    Wakefield seems to be driven by his own vanity to leave his home and see whether or not his wife would notice his absence. He feels as though he is playing a trick on her, whereby based on her perceived reactions to his absence, he can gauge how much she truly cares about him.

    With this backdrop, he is driven to leave his house, and shelter in another lodging right next to his own. I feel as though this behavior pattern represents a lack of control on Wakefield’s part at managing his own internal monologue. In many more normal situations, if one significant other felt that their partner was losing interest, a potential resolution would be to confront them about this thought. Wakefield does something completely out of the norm, and somewhat childish; in convincing himself that he is not needed, he perceives it to be a good idea to leave his home for twenty years. In doing so, it is apparent that Wakefield has little ability to regulate some of the more ridiculous thoughts that are part of his internal monologue.

    However within this twisted backdrop, Wakefield seems to be in perfect control of his physical world. If we for one second assume that what he is doing is perfectly normal, it becomes easier to evaluate how consistently Wakefield adheres to his warped world view. For 20 years, the man manages to avoid his wife solely by hiding out in the street right next to her home. In my view, this demonstrates an incredible ability to control oneself, and to be able to stick to a plan, however abnormal said plan may be. In this regard, I would argue that Wakefield has perfect physical control of his actions given the mental backdrop with which he operates.

    In conclusion, Wakefield has no control over the thoughts that shape his worldview, but he does have control over how he executes on those thoughts, evidenced by his consistent adherence to the conclusions he draws within his own mind.

    1. Gordon Lewis

      I agree with you, Henry, that in assuming Wakefield’s reasoning is perfectly normal, that his actions follow accordingly. Much like in Bartelby, we don’t get to view Wakefield, Young Goodman Brown, or Rev. Hooper’s own perspectives and thus we lack a crucial way in which to understand their seemingly insane actions.

      It is interesting to think about how each character perceives reality differently from the narrator. In Wakefield’s case, he is convinced his wife would not miss him if he were gone, which causes him to conduct his 20-year experiment. For Young Goodman Brown, because he believes that all of the townsfolk he lives with are sinners and fiends, he is wary around them and treats them with suspicion. In Rev. Hooper’s eyes, everyone around him is wearing a black veil, so it follows that he would most certainly think it strange for someone wearing the same black veil as him to ask him to remove it without having removed it themselves.

      To each unique character, their actions are justifiable and reasonable to them as they perceive reality around them, and were we picturing that same reality instead of our own, I think we wouldn’t be as quick to brush them off as insane.

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